Arrests for drug offenses on VCU’s Monroe Park campus have doubled in comparison to to last year, according to statistics provided by the VCU Police Department.
Since Aug. 1, 2010, the campus has seen 124 arrests for drug offenses, compared to 76 arrests during the same time period during the 2009-10 academic year. Drug arrests in residential housing have doubled during the 2010 calendar year.
Explanations accounting for the increase in arrests vary, from students feeling more free to use drugs, to police increasing enforcement efficiency.
To some students, it appears that the police are particularly targeting drug offenders.
“I really think it’s a combination of the VCU police patrolling campus abusers and our culture being much more accepting of marijuana smokers than in the past,” said Jurriaan van den Hurk, a VCU freshman.
“No one really cares about marijuana smokers,” van den Hurk said. “People are much more comfortable being open about their marijuana use.”
The VCU Police Department has not targeted drug offenders specifically, however, according to Police Chief John Venuti.
“We haven’t launched any initiative (against drug offenders),” he said.
The increase in arrests has not been due to new police tactics or a focus on drug offenses, but instead “from a much more focused and strategic approach to problems and issues,” Venuti said.
“What everyone is seeing is a much more strategic deployment of the police officers that I have, so my officers are much more visible,” he said.
Most drug arrests occur while police are on their normal route and following normal procedures, not during a “sting” operation, said police Sgt. Nicole Dailey of the VCU Police Department.
“Most of our arrests that have been generated have been complaints that have come in, officers that have been doing their normal routines, or during the process of another arrest,” Dailey said.
In addition to arrests, drug offenders on VCU’s campus also face university penalties.
“We’ve seen an increase in referrals (to Judicial Affairs), and the majority have been determined to have violated the university’s drug policy,” said Karen Belanger, director of VCU’s Judicial Affairs and Academic Integrity.
Students found in possession of a small amount of marijuana or other drugs will probably face university probation, Belanger said. Possession of larger quantities of drugs mean a student will face the VCU Hearing Board, which has the power to suspend or expel students.
Some students see these penalties as too strict.
“If you are prosecuted as a drug offender, then you lose the potential for financial aid from the government,” van den Hurk said. “At VCU, students are not going to be able to succeed with drug prohibitions continuing.”
Van den Hurk is a member of the VCU chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, a nation-wide grassroots organization with more than 150 chapters. The organization was founded on the premise that the war on drugs policy has failed and does more harm than good. Instead, SSDP seeks to introduce and promote policies to decrease what they identify as harmful side effects of drug prohibition.
Most recently, SSDP has been supporting a policy which would provide amnesty for individuals who call emergency medical services on behalf of someone who is overdosing on drugs or alcohol. This policy would protect such individuals from facing penalties, even if they were breaking the law themselves.
“A large percentage of potential deaths and alcohol poisonings that could be avoided happen because people don’t want to call authorities and get themselves arrested,” van den Hurk said. “A policy change would be highly beneficial for VCU.”